Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Oddest TLD

Most readers have seen the .TV domain, in which the 12,000 people on the island of Tuvalu rent out their Internet birthright (except for .com.tv and .org.tv) because of a convenient overlap with an English acronym.

However, I think I found an odder Top Level Domain — not currently being rented out, but associated with an even less populated geography.

The .AQ domain is for the continent of Antarctica, i.e. everything south of 60° S latitude. The continent has no natives, no government and no industry, just a few thousand scientific tourists. I found it in a Google search Monday, because AQ is an acronym used in business school accreditation.

Access to Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty, and in fact the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat has a website in four languages: English (because of the US, UK and Australia), Spanish (because the closest inhabitants are in South America†), Russian (in deference to the former superpower) and French (because of the former French colonies in the Caribbean and Africa?). However, not all the content is translated from English.

The TLD is maintained by Swizzle Limited of Auckland, NZ, headed by Internet entrepreneur Peter Mott, who also has the exclusive .PN TLD franchise for Pitcairn Islands (think Mutiny on the Bounty). The domain for the nominal AQ administrator is icenic.aq, but (unlike say CIRA) it has no web server.

However, a Google search of the TLD produces 20,000 web pages. The most interesting is the list of 65 facilities on the continent — 33 manned stations, plus miscellaneous runways and other facilities. As with anything else, it even has a Google map representation — in this case using Google Earth.

The Google map points out an interesting curiosity. Ushuaia, capital of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego is 54° S, (visible at lower left). South Georgia island (a U.K. territory shown in upper left) is 54.5° S. The South Orkney Islands (60.5° S) are the subject of conflicting claims between the UK and Argentina, but because they are South of 60°S, they are covered by the Antarctic Treaty and their bases are officially listed in the .AQ database. 

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